Kris Andrew Small partners with adidas in a Pride Collection Inspired by The 1969 Stonewall Uprising.
Pride month is both expressive and a significant cultural moment to recognize the trials, challenges, and progress of LGBTQIA+ acceptance. One of the most expressive forms of both being out and standing in solidarity for gay rights is through art, design, and fashion. This Pride Month, we look to the fashion community to unveil a collaboration with queer artist Kris Andrew Small, a native of Sydney, Australia, who creates bold works of art with a joyful explosion of colors and patterns.
The collection is influenced by the pop art and graphic design of the ’70s and ’80s, highly regarded voices in the LGBTQIA+ community. Kris and adidas’ goal for the collection is to bring visibility to the many voices of the LGBTQIA+ community, honoring those like Kris and so many others who continue to push society forward.
You grew up in Australia. How would you describe your youth and upbringing?
I was born in Sydney, but I grew up in Brisbane, one hour north. It’s tropical. I didn’t like growing up there because – in a way – it’s a small town. So I was pretty eager to get out of there, but at the same time, I realized later on that it’d had a profound effect on the way that I am.
After moving to the UK when I was 20, I found myself back in Australia when visas ran out, and that’s where I realized the impact Brisbane had made. It’s an opinionated place as well, and I have a lot of opinions, and people don’t take well to those. There are two sides to it, I guess it’s conservative in some ways, and I always think it pushes people to an extreme when things are conventional. I had a pretty conservative upbringing, not from my family but my general environment. I was always told being artistic was crazy, and I was made to feel insecure about being gay. These things pushed me to focus on those aspects of myself and to go back against conservative thinking.
Known for his energetic and loud work, Kris’ journey into the design space was not linear. Through his journey from graphic design to advertising to creating abstract designs for some of the world’s top brands, Kris says his art has helped him find comfort in all the facets of his identity and encourages others to do the same.
How and when did you find the art in your life?
I didn’t know what else to do, to be honest. I was not very good at school. The only thing I liked was art and drama and stuff like that. I don’t think I had one of those “light bulb” moments like you often read about artists who were always good at painting and drawing. I was not one of those kids, but I worked at it and became better. But, of course, I was never 100% convinced I was an artist.
I didn’t know what else to do, and I applied to study film in school. I studied at a private college, and it was the first time that I met people working in a creative industry, and they showed me how to work hard. Next, I went to study graphic design, which I hated but also loved at the same time. It was a way to learn the tools. I then worked in advertising and hated that. I tried many things, but I had a lot of fun and made things along the way. I began to embed my opinions on the planet and myself in my work, it took off, and I managed to build a career out of it, which is still surreal because it felt very quick, but it was seven years up to that point.
What are some of your proudest moments on that journey if you were to reflect?
There are a few I’m proud of. My first exhibition because I had the courage to do it. I was naive and had no expectations. I did it, and then I went on holiday with my mum and returned to all these emails asking me if I wanted to work on new projects. It was strange because I had no expectations from this exhibition. I just wanted to do the work, hoping that it would hit a nerve and lead to something. From that day on, I never really felt like art was my job, but I earned money from it. Within six months of having an exhibition, I was in America and being offered ample opportunities.
Near the pandemic’s start, Kris began prioritizing more personal work to process and share his views on the impactful things around the world. Notably, his work’s heart is a message of empowerment and support for the LGBTQIA+ community. In addition, his often-abstract patterns and illustrations are hidden messages of acceptance and self-love, of being true to yourself.
This boldness and unencumbered approach to life are the pillars of Kris’ unique design style, which so many know and love today – a style that rejects formality and embraces self-expression. Kris now openly talks about his experience being queer and draws inspiration for his work from his sexuality and life as a whole. “When I was younger, I was so scared to be Queer; what gave me strength was when I started showing that side of me and putting it in my work; it made me feel liberated and free.”
How did adidas first approach you?
I love adidas, and I love sneakers; I always have. An adidas designer reached out to me about doing a trefoil for the adidas badge of sport and one for a Pride project. Then COVID hit, and plans changed. It came back about six months later, and I was super excited to take it on. It snowballed into this giant project. If you want my design input on a Superstar, I genuinely want to design the Superstar end. I created the whole collection in collaboration with the adidas design team and sent it to them, and I think the team was shocked because they weren’t expecting that much from me.
I genuinely enjoy what I do, and I’ve had the flip side of doing things that I hated doing. So now that I am doing something I love, I want to make the best output. So I’m going to do the best sneaker I can, and then one sneaker became nine sneakers; now I think it’s 12.
Kris’ collection with adidas is a big celebration of movement, color, and joy. While indisputably bold, the collection embraces a tweaked approach to the traditional Pride rainbow and visual language associated with Pride month. Still, representation of the LBGTQIA+ community is evident in the collection’s abstract representation of the celebratory nature of Pride.
The collection is a celebration. Can you break down the design aspects and choices for the collection?
It celebrates a lot of things: movement, color, and joy. I wanted it to have its own identity for each part of the collection. I started with the original AOP squiggle design, which became the base of everything. I see that as an abstract representation of Pride; it’s like many people dancing and having fun. And then, the typography crosses each other and links everything together. One character goes over to the Dungarees, hanging out there, and they disperse across the product lines in unique ways, with unique characters appearing on each.
My favorite piece in the collection is the Superstar because that was right towards the end of the design process. I was wrapping up, and I think this silhouette is one of the most iconic in the history of footwear. The other heroes are the Dungarees and the tracksuit. Talking about iconic, the tracksuit was such a unique piece and pulled from the heritage of what I envisioned in my youth happening in culture. Then I named the characters in the collection; that was fun. None of them have genders, and the main character is Klaus.
Kris uses his practice to uplift, educate and provide a voice for those unable to use theirs. In his often-abstract patterns and illustrations are hidden messages of acceptance and self-love, allowing that to guide your artistic vision. The Pride collection is available now at adidas.com/us/pride.